Batman: The Golden Age volume 5

By Bill Finger, Don Cameron, Ruth “Bunny” Lyon Kaufman, Horace L. Gold, Joseph Greene, Joe Samachson, Bob Kane, Jerry Robinson, George Roussos, Dick Sprang, Jack Burnley, Ray Burnley, Fred Ray, Norman Fallon & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-8461-9 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Timely and Evergreen Family Adventure… 10/10

Debuting a year after Superman, “The Bat-Man” (and latterly Robin, the Boy Wonder) confirmed DC/National Comics as the market frontrunner and conceptual leader of the burgeoning comicbook industry.

Having established the parameters of the metahuman with their Man of Steel, the physical mortal perfection and dashing derring-do of the strictly-human Dynamic Duo rapidly became the swashbuckling benchmark by which all other four-colour crime-busters were judged.

Batman: The Golden Age is a series of paperback feasts (there are also weightier, pricier, more capacious hardback Omnibus editions available, and digital iterations too) re-presenting the Dark Knight’s earliest exploits.

Presented in original publishing release order, the tomes trace the character’s growth into the icon who would inspire so many and develop the resilience needed to survive the stifling cultural vicissitudes that coming decades would inflict upon him and his partner, Robin.

Re-presenting a glorious and astounding treasure-trove of cape-&-cowl classics and iconic covers from Detective Comics #75-81, Batman #16-20 plus contemporary companion tales from World’s Finest Comics #10-11: this book covers groundbreaking escapades from April/May 1943 to December/January 1944: as the Dynamic Duo continually develop and storm ahead of all competition.

I’m certain it’s no coincidence that many of these Golden Age treasures are also some of the best and most reprinted tales in the Batman canon. With chief writers Bill Finger and Don Cameron at a peak of creativity and production, everybody on the Home Front was keen to do their bit – even if that was simply making kids of all ages forget their troubles for a brief while. These tales were crafted just as the dark tide was turning and an odour of hopeful optimism was creeping into the escapist, crime-busting yarns – and especially the stunning covers – seen here in the work of Jerry Robinson, George Roussos, Bob Kane Jack Burnley, Dick Sprang, Fred Ray and Stan Kaye…

The supplemental writers all pushed the boundaries of the adventure medium whilst graphic genius Sprang began to slowly supersede Kane and Burnley: making the feature uniquely his own while keeping the Dynamic Duo at the forefront of the vast army of superhero successes.

War always stimulates creativity and advancement and these sublime adventures of Batman and Robin more than prove that axiom as the growing band of creators responsible for producing myriad adventures of the Dark Knight hit an artistic peak which only stellar stable-mate Superman and Fawcett’s Captain Marvel were able to equal or even approach.


The compelling dramas open with the landmark Batman #16 (cover-dated April/May 1943) and one of three tales by Cameron. ‘The Joker Reforms!’ (Kane, Robinson & Roussos art) sees the Clown Prince suffer a blow to the head and enjoy a complete personality shift… but not for long…, after which Ruth “Bunny Lyons” Kaufman scripted a bold and fascinating Black Market milk caper in ‘The Grade A Crimes!’ for Ray & Jack Burney to dynamically delineate.

‘The Adventure of the Branded Tree’ (Cameron and the Burnleys) has the Gotham Gangbusters heading to lumberjack country for a vacation to become embroiled in big city banditry before the issue wraps up with hilarious thriller-comedy ‘Here Comes Alfred!’ (Cameron, Kane, Robinson & Roussos) which foists a rotund, unwelcome and staggeringly faux-English manservant upon the Masked Manhunters to finally complete the classic core cast of the series in a brilliantly fast-paced spy-drama with loads of laughs and buckets of tension…

Detective Comics #75 (May 1943) introduces a new aristocrat of crime in pompous popinjay ‘The Robber Baron!’ (Cameron, Jack Burnley & Roussos) before the Joker resurfaces in #76 to ‘Slay ‘em With Flowers’: a graphic chiller by Horace L. Gold, Robinson & Roussos.

Next up is Batman #17 which opens with the gloriously human story of B. Boswell Brown: a lonely, self-important old man who claims to be ‘The Batman’s Biographer!’ Unfortunately, ruthless robber The Conjurer gives the claim far more credence than most in a tense thriller by Cameron, Kane, Robinson & Roussos…

Counterbalancing the dark whimsy is ‘The Penguin Goes A-Hunting’ (Cameron, Jack & Ray Burnley): a wild romp wherein the Perfidious Popinjay undertakes a hubris-fuelled crime-spree after being left off a “Batman’s Most Dangerous Foes” list.

The same creative team concocted ‘Rogues Pageant!’ wherein murderous thieves in Western city Santo Pablo inexplicably disrupt the towns historical Anniversary celebrations after which Joe Greene, Kane & Robinson detail the Dynamic Duo’s brutal battle with a deadly gang of maritime marauders in the appealing ‘Adventure of the Vitamin Vandals!’

The creation of Superman propelled National Comics to the forefront of their fledgling industry and in 1939 the company was licensed to produce a commemorative comicbook celebrating the start of the New York World’s Fair, with the Man of Tomorrow prominently featured among the four-colour stars of the appropriately titled New York World’s Fair Comics.

A year later, following the birth of Batman and Robin, National combined Dark Knight, Boy Wonder and Action Ace on the cover of the follow-up New York World’s Fair 1940.The spectacular 96-page anthology was a tremendous success and the oversized bonanza format was established, becoming Spring 1941’s World’s Best Comics#1, before finally settling on the now-legendary title World’s Finest Comics from the second issue, beginning a stellar 45-year run which only ended as part of the massive clear-out and de-cluttering exercise that was Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Until 1954 and the swingeing axe-blows of rising print costs, the only place Superman and Batman ever met was on the stunning covers by the likes of Burnley, Fred Ray and others. Between those sturdy card covers, the heroes maintained a strict non-collaboration policy.

Here World’s Finest Comics #10 (Summer 1943) features Finger, Robinson & Roussos’ ‘The Man with the Camera Eyes’: a gripping battle of wits between the Gotham Guardians and a crafty crook with an eidetic memory, before Finger, Kane & Roussos introduce a fascinating new wrinkle to villainy with the conflicted doctor who operates ‘The Crime Clinic’ in Detective #77. Crime Surgeon Matthew Thorne would return many times over the coming decades…

Issue #78 (August 1943) pushes the patriotic agenda with ‘The Bond Wagon’ (Joseph Greene, Burnley & Roussos) as Robin’s efforts to raise war funds through a parade of historical look-alikes is targeted by Nazi spies and sympathisers, after which Batman #18 starts with a spectacular, visually stunning crime-caper wherein the Gotham Gangbusters clash again with rascally rotund rogues Tweedledum and Tweedledee whilst solving ‘The Secret of Hunter’s Inn!’ (Samachson & Robinson).

‘Robin Studies his Lessons!’ (Samachson, Kane & Robinson) sees the Boy Wonder grounded from all crime-busting duties until his school work improves – even if it means Batman dying for want of his astounding assistance!

Bill Finger and the Burnley bros craft ‘The Good Samaritan Cops’: another brilliantly absorbing human interest drama focused on the tense but unglamorous work of the Police Emergency Squad before the action culminates in a shocking and powerful final engagement for manic physician and felonious mastermind Matthew Thorne. ‘The Crime Surgeon!’ (Finger, Kane & Robinson) here tries his deft and devilish hand at masterminding other crooks’ capers…

Over in Detective Comics #79 ‘Destiny’s Auction’ – Cameron & Robinson – offers another sterling moving melodrama as a fortune teller’s prognostications lead to fame, fortune and deadly danger for a failed actress, has-been actor and superstitious gangster…

World’s Finest Comics #11’s Batman episode reveals ‘A Thief in Time!’ (Finger & Robinson inked by Fred Ray), pitting our heroes against future-felon Rob Callender, who falls through a time-warp and thinks he’s found the perfect way to get rich.

Detective #80 sees the turbulent tragedy of deranged, double-edged threat Harvey Kent, finally resolved after a typically terrific tussle with ‘The End of Two-Face!’ (Finger, Kane, Robinson & Roussos), after which Batman #19 unleashes another quartet of compelling crime-busting cases.

There’s no mistaking the magnificent artwork of rising star Dick Sprang who pencilled every tale in this astounding issue, beginning with Cameron’s ‘Batman Makes a Deadline!’ as the Dark Knight investigates skulduggery and attempted murder at the City’s biggest newspaper. He also scripted breathtaking fantasy masterpiece ‘Atlantis Goes to War!’ with the Dynamic Duo rescuing that fabled submerged city from overwhelming Nazi assault.

The Joker rears his garish head again in anonymously-penned thriller ‘The Case of the Timid Lion!’ (perhaps William Woolfolk or Jack Schiff?) with the Harlequin of Hate enraged and lethal whilst tracking down an impostor committing crazy capers in his name… Samachson, Sprang and inker Norman Fallon then unmask the ‘Collector of Millionaires’ with Dick Grayson covertly investigating his wealthy mentor’s bewildering abduction and subsequent replacement by a cunning doppelganger…

‘The Cavalier of Crime!’ (Detective #81, by Cameron, Kane & Roussos) introduces another bizarre, baroque costumed crazy who tests his rapacious wits and sharp-edged weapons against the Dynamic Duo – naturally and ultimately to no avail…

The Home Front certainly seemed a lot brighter, as can be seen in Batman #20 which opens with the Joker in ‘The Centuries of Crime!’ (Cameron, Jack & Ray Burnley) with the Mountebank of Mirth claiming to have discovered a nefariously profitable method of time-travelling, whilst ‘The Trial of Titus Keyes!’ (Finger, Kane & Robinson) offers a masterful courtroom drama of injustice amended, focussing on the inefficacy of witness statements…

‘The Lawmen of the Sea!’ (Finger & the Burnley boys) finds the Dynamic Duo again working with a lesser known Police Division as they join The Harbor Patrol in their daily duties, uncovering a modern-day piracy ring, before the issue and this collection concludes on an emotional high with ‘Bruce Wayne Loses Guardianship of Dick Grayson!’ as a couple of fraudsters claiming to be the boy’s last remaining relatives petition to adopt him. A melodramatic triumph by Finger, Kane & Robinson, there’s still plenty of action, especially after the grifters try to sell Dick back to Bruce Wayne

This stuff set the standard for comic superheroes. Whatever you like now, you owe it to these tales. Superman gave us the idea, and writers like Finger and Cameron refined and defined the meta-structure of the costumed crime-fighter. Where the Man of Steel was as much social force and wish fulfilment as hero, Batman and Robin did what we ordinary mortals wanted and needed to do.

They taught bad people the lesson they deserved.

The history of the American comicbook industry in almost every major aspect stems from the raw, vital and still powerfully compelling tales of DC’s twin icons: Superman and Batman.

It’s only fair and fitting that both those characters are still going strong and that their earliest adventures can be relived in chronological order in a variety of formats from relatively economical newsprint paperbacks to deluxe hardcover commemorative Archive editions – and digital formats too.

These are the stories that cemented the popularity of Batman and Robin and brought welcome surcease to millions during a time of tremendous hardship and crisis. Even if these days aren’t nearly as perilous or desperate – and there ain’t many who thinks otherwise! – the power of such work to rouse and charm is still potent and just as necessary. You owe it to yourself and your family and even your hamster to Buy This Book…
© 1943, 1944, 2018 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Shazam! The Monster Society of Evil

By Jeff Smith, coloured by Steve Hamaker (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1466-1 (HB)                    978-1-4012-0974-2 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Immaculate Fight ‘n’ Tights Fiction for the Whole Family… 10/10

Superhero comics don’t get better than this.

No soft-soap, no easing you in. Jeff Smith (in a tale originally published as a 4-issue prestige format miniseries in 2007) came the closest yet to recapturing the naive yet knowing charm that made the World’s Mightiest Innocent far and away the most successful super-character of the Golden Age in this reworking of one of his greatest adventures.

So, with the latest screen interpretation set to bust blocks next year it’s well past time to take another look at the glorious beast – especially as its also available in assorted digital formats too. Now all we need is a sure-fire way to give eBooks as proper gifts…

Following an adulatory Introduction from Alex Ross, the trip back to our communal childhoods kicks off with a scene of appalling deprivation and terror…

Billy Batson is a little homeless kid with a murky past and a glorious destiny. One night he follows a mysterious figure into an abandoned subway station and meets the wizard Shazam, who gives him the ability to turn into a full-grown superhero called Captain Marvel. Gifted with the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles and the speed of Mercury, the lad is sent into the world to do good.

Accompanied by verbose tiger-spirit Mr. Tawky Tawny, Billy sets out to find a little sister he never knew he had, and even parlays himself into a job as a source for TV reporter Helen Fidelity

He sets to, fighting evils big and small, but at his heart he’s still just a kid. When he impetuously causes a ripple in the world’s magical fabric it causes cosmic conniptions that endanger the universe. When he finally tracks down his little sister, he accidentally shares his powers with her and suffers the ignominy of having her be better at the job than he is…

He also encounters evil genius Dr. Sivanna, US Attorney General and would-be ruler of the universe, and the deadly and hideous minions of the mysterious Mr. Mind, whose Monster Society of Evil is dedicated to wiping out humanity! Can he make amends and save the day…? Maybe, if Mary Marvel helps…

The original saga this gem is loosely based on ran from 1943-1946 in Captain Marvel Adventures #22-46: a boldly ambitious and captivating chapter-play in the manner of the popular movie serials of the day, and still regarded as one of the most memorable achievements of Golden Age comicbooks. It’s fairly safe to say that this reworking is going to stay in people’s hearts and minds for a good long time, too. It certainly spawned an excellent spin-off series which I’ll be covering next year some time, just to cash in on the movie…

Jeff Smith has accomplished the impossible here. He has created a superhero tale for all ages and hopefully returned some part of the genre to the children for whom it was originally intended. Shazam! The Monster Society of Evil is exciting, spectacular, moving and unselfconscious; revelling in the power of its own roots and the audience’s unbridled capacity for joy.

If you can track down the hardback volume, it’s stuffed with added features. The dust-jacket opens into a truly magical double-sided poster, there are sketch and script pages for the reader with industry aspirations, biographies and historical sections, a lavishly illustrated production journal, puzzles and even a modern version of the secret code used as a circulation builder in the 1940s. Most important though, and irrespective of what iteration you get, it is the mesmerising quality of the story and artwork that you’ll remember, forever.

Words are cheap and I’ve used enough: now go get this is a truly magical, utterly marvellous book.
© 2009 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Supergirl: The Silver Age volume 2

By Leo Dorfman, Jerry Seigel, Jim Mooney & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-8131-1

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Because Girls Are Super Heroes Too… 8/10

After decades as the distaff cousin of a Truly Big Gun, Supergirl is now a certified multimedia solo star of screen and page.

Such was not always the case, as this engaging trade paperback compendium (also available ins eBook formats) joyously attests. The gathered back-up tales from Action Comics #285-307 – and spanning February 1962 to December 1963 – trace the early career of Superman’s cousin Kara Zor-El of Argo City as she moves from hidden secret to star turn and minor player to public celebrity. From the back of the book to the front of the house is always a reason to celebrate, right?

Her story began as August 1958 try-out story ‘The Three Magic Wishes’ by Otto Binder, Dick Sprang & Stan Kaye in Superman #123 which told how a mystic totem briefly conjured up a young girl with super-powers as one of three wishes made by Jimmy Olsen. Such was the reaction to the plucky heroine that within a year a new version was introduced to the Superman Family…

After a few intriguing test-runs Supergirl began as a future star of the expanding Superman pocket universe in Action Comics #252 (May 1959). Superman’s cousin Kara had been born on a city-sized fragment of Krypton, which was hurled intact into space when the planet exploded. Eventually Argo City turned to Kryptonite like the rest of the detonated world’s debris, and her dying parents, observing Earth through their scopes, sent their daughter to safety as they perished. Landing on Earth, she met Superman. He created the identity of Linda Lee and hid her in an orphanage in small town Midvale whilst she mastered her new powers in secrecy and safety.

This second collection sees her very existence kept secret from the general public whilst she lives with adoptive parents Fred and Edna Danvers. They are completely unaware that the orphan they have recently adopted is a Kryptonian super-being. That is all about to change as the Maid of Might finally graduates from superhero training…

The accent on these stories generally revolves around problem-solving, identity-preserving and loneliness, with both good taste and the Comics Code ensuring that readers weren’t traumatised by unsavoury or excessively violent tales. Such plots were akin to situation comedies, and might occasion a shudder now and then from modern readers, but believe me compared to the times they were and remain light years ahead of the curve…

Peculiar transformations were a mainstay of 1960s comics, and although a post-modern interpretation might discern some metaphor for puberty or girls “becoming” women, I rather suspect the true answer can be found in the authors’ love of comedy and an editorial belief that fighting was unladylike.

Red Kryptonite – a cosmically-altered isotope of the radioactive element left when Krypton exploded – regularly caused temporary physical and sometimes mental mutations in the survivors of that doomed world: a godsend to writers in need of a challenging visual element when writing characters with the power to shrug off nukes and drop-kick planets…

You have been warned…

Hogging the cover (by Super-stalwarts Curt Swan & George Klein) the simpler times ended as a big change in the Maid of Might’s status occurred. When her parents learn of their new daughter’s true origins, Superman allows his cousin to announce her existence to the world in 2-part saga ‘The World’s Greatest Heroine!’ (#285) and ‘The Infinite Monster!’ (#286). Here Jerry Siegel & regular artist Jim Mooney detail how Supergirl becomes the darling of the universe: openly saving planet Earth and finally getting all the credit for it.

Action Comics #286 pits her against her cousin’s greatest foe in ‘The Death of Luthor!’, whilst ‘Supergirl’s Greatest Challenge!’ sees her visiting the Legion of Super-Heroes (quibblers be warned: initially their far-future era was the 21st century. It was quietly retrofitted to a thousand years from “now” after the tales in this volume) to save the Earth from invasion.

She also meets the telepathic descendent of her cat Streaky. His name was Whizzy (I could have left that out but chose not to – once more for smug, comedic effect…).

‘The Man who Made Supergirl Cry!’ signalled the beginning of Leo Dorfman’s contributions as scripter. Little is known about this prolific writer, other than he also worked under the name Geoff Brown and David George, producing quality material continuously from the Golden Age until his death in 1974, mostly for DC and Gold Key Comics.

In this tight little thriller Phantom Zone villains take control of Supergirl’s new dad in a plot to escape their ethereal dungeon dimension…

Siegel returned for Action #289’s ‘Superman’s Super-Courtship!’: something of a classic, as the Girl of Steel scours the universe for an ideal mate for her cousin. Charming at the time, modern sensibilities might quail at the conclusion that his perfect mate was just like Supergirl herself, but older…

‘Supergirl’s Super Boy-Friends!’ finds both human Dick Malverne and Atlantean mer-boy Jerro catch super-powers after kissing her (I’m again saying nothing here except Red K!) whilst she doesn’t actually become ‘The Bride of Mr. Mxyzptlk!’ when the fifth-dimensional prankster transfers his unwanted attentions to her in Action #291.

An extended storyline by Dorfman began in the next issue when the typical (albeit invulnerable) teen got a new “pet”. ‘The Super-Steed of Steel!’ is a beautiful white horse who helps her stave off an alien invasion, but the creature has a bizarre and mysterious past, revealed in ‘The Secret Origin of Supergirl’s Super-Horse!’, before a resolution of sorts is reached in ‘The Mutiny of Super-Horse’.

A new cast member joined the series in ‘The Girl with the X-Ray Mind!’: a psychic with a shocking connection to the Superman Family, and her secrets were further revealed in ‘The Girl who was Supergirl’s Double!’

It was the beginning of an extraordinarily tense and epic continued storyline featuring Phantom Zone villains, Luthor, Supergirl’s arch enemy Lesla Lar, the destruction of Atlantis and genuine thrills and excitement. Earth was threatened by ‘The Forbidden Weapons of Krypton!’ and it took ‘The Super-Powers of Lex Luthor!’ to finally save the day.

Action #299 returned to whimsical normality with ‘The Fantastic Secret of Superbaby II!’, and the anniversary 300th issue featured ‘The Return of Super-Horse!’: another multi-part tale that revealed ‘The Secret Identity of Super-Horse!’ in #301, only to suffer ‘The Day Super-Horse went Wild!’ in the next episode.

By this time Supergirl featured on alternate Action Comics covers, and was regularly breaking into the lead Superman story. Sadly, those covers, by art dream-team Swan & Klein are not included nor is their Dorfman-scripted Man of Steel tale ‘The Monster from Krypton!’ from #303, with Supergirl having to battle her Red K transformed cousin. We can enjoy the back-up though: the moving tragedy of ‘Supergirl’s Big Brother!’ whose misspent life is not totally wasted in the end…

Supergirl got a new arch-enemy in ‘The Maid of Menace!’ but Black Flame is not as problematic as ‘The Girl Who Hated Supergirl!’ (with art solely credited to Mooney. but I’m pretty sure it’s at least part-inked by John Forte).

Action #306 was a pure mystery thriller as Girl of Steel became ‘The Maid of Doom!’ after which the dramas pause after ‘Supergirl’s Wedding Day!’ which almost proves that no girl can resist a manly man… but only almost!

Throughout this period Kara of Krypton underwent more changes than most of her confreres had in twenty years, as the editors sought to find a niche the buying public could resonate with, but for all that these stories remain exciting, ingenious and utterly bemusing.

Possibly the last time a female super-character’s sexual allure and sales potential wasn’t freely and gratuitously exploited, these tales are a link and window to a far less crass time and display one of the few strong female characters that parents can still happily share with their youngest girl children. I’m certainly not embarrassed to let any women see this volume, unlike any “Bad-Girl” book – or male public figure – you could possibly name.
© 1962, 1963, 2018 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman: The Golden Age volume 4

By Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster, Paul Cassidy, Ed Dobrotka, Leo Nowak, John Sikela, Fred Ray & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-7867-0

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Vital Vintage Superhero Fun and Fantasy… 9/10

As his latest record-breaking anniversary year rapidly approaches its end, the popularity of Superman is on the climb again. The American comicbook industry – if it existed at all by now – would have been an utterly unrecognisable thing without The Man of Tomorrow. His unprecedented invention and adoption by a desperate and joy-starved generation gave birth to an entire genre if not an actual art form.

Imitation is the most honest compliment and can be profitable too. Superman triggered an inconceivable army of imitators and variations and, within three years of his Summer 1938 debut, the intoxicating blend of action and social wish-fulfilment which hallmarked the early Action Ace had grown to encompass cops-and-robbers crime-busting, socially reforming dramas, science fiction, fantasy, whimsical comedy.

Once the war in Europe and the East finally involved America, to that list was added patriotic relevance for a host of gods, heroes and monsters – all dedicated to profit through exuberant, eye-popping excess and vigorous dashing derring-do.

In comicbook terms at least, Superman was master of the world. He had already utterly changed the shape of the fledgling industry by the time of these tales. There was a successful newspaper strip, foreign and overseas syndication and the Fleischer studio was producing some of the most expensive – and best – animated cartoons ever conceived.

Thankfully the quality of the source material was increasing with every four-colour release, and the energy and enthusiasm of Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster had infected the burgeoning studio that grew around them to cope with the relentless demand.

This latest addition to the splendid Golden Age/Silver Age strand of DC reprint compendia presents more of an epochal run of raw, unpolished but viscerally vibrant stories by Siegel, Shuster and the sterling crew of their ever-expanding “Superman Studio” who were setting the funnybook world on fire: crude, rough, uncontrollable wish-fulfilling, cathartically exuberant exploits of a righteous and superior man dealing out summary justice equally to social malcontents, exploitative capitalists, thugs and ne’er-do-wells that initially captured the imagination of a generation.

This fourth remastered paperback collection (also available digitally) of the Action Ace’s early exploits – reprinted in the order they first appeared – covers the turbulent, times spanning September 1941 to April 1942: encompassing escapades from Action Comics #41-47, Superman #12-15 and solo-adventures from World’s Finest Comics #3-5 (an oversized anthology title where he shared whimsical cover-stardom with Batman and Robin).

As always, every comic appearance is preceded by the original cover illustration, all captivating graphic masterpieces from Fred Ray whilst each tale is credited to co-originator Siegel.

Although he & Shuster had very much settled into the character by now, the latter was increasingly involved with the Superman newspaper strip. Even so, the buzz of success still fired them both and innovation still sparkles amidst the exuberance.

Written entirely by Seigel this incredible panorama of torrid tales opens with ‘The Case of the Death Express’: a tense thriller about train-wreckers illustrated by Nowak from the Fall issue of World’s Finest (#3).

Due to the exigencies of periodical publishing, although the terrific tales collected in this compendium take the Man of Steel to December 1941 and beyond, they were all prepared well in advance of Japan’s sneak attack on Pearl Harbor.

Even though spies and sabotage plots were already a solid standby of the narrative currency of the times and many in America felt war was inevitable (patriotic covers were beginning to appear on many comic books), the war was still a distant and exotic affair, impersonal and at one remove from daily life as experienced by the kids who were as the perceived audience for these four-colour fantasies.

That would change radically in the months and issues to come…

Most stories of the time were untitled; these have been named post-hoc simply to provide differentiation and make my task simpler …

Leo Nowak was drawing most of the comic output at this time and is responsible for the lion’s share of these adventures, beginning with the first three from Superman #12 (September/October 1941). ‘Peril on Pogo Island’ sees Lois Lane and Clark Kent at the mercy of rampaging tribesmen, although spies from a certain foreign power are at the back of it all, whilst ‘The Suicide Murders’ finds them facing a particularly grisly band of gangsters. John Sikela inked Nowak on ‘The Grotak Bund’ wherein seditionists attempt to destroy vital US industries, and fully illustrated the final tale as an old foe rears his shiny head once more in ‘The Beasts of Luthor’, accompanied by a spectacular array of giant monsters…

Action Comics #41 (October 1941) exposes ‘The Saboteur’ in a terse tale of a traitor motivated by greed rather than ideology illustrated by Paul Cassidy, whilst Nowak’s ‘City in the Stratosphere’ (Action #42) reveals that a trouble-free paradise floating above Metropolis has been subverted by an old enemy. He also handled most of Superman #13 (November/December 1941).

This issue led with a Cassidy pin-up after which ‘The Light’ debuts an old foe in a new super-scientific guise after which ‘The Archer’ pits the Man of Steel against his first costumed villain. ‘Baby on the Doorstep’ took an opportunity for fun and the feel-good factor as Clark becomes a temporary parent in a tale of stolen battle plans before ‘The City Beneath the Earth’ (illustrated by Sikela) returns to the serious business of action and spectacle as our hero discovers a subterranean kingdom lost since the Ice Age.

World’s Finest Comics #4 (Winter 1941) offers ‘The Case of the Crime Crusade’: another Nowak-rendered socially relevant racketeering yarn before ‘The Crashing Planes’ – from Action #43 and with Superman attacking Nazi paratroopers on the cover – sees the Man of Tomorrow smashing a plot to destroy a commercial airline.

Even though war was undeclared DC and many other publishers had struck their colours well before December 7th. When the Japanese attack filtered through to the gaudy pages the patriotic indignation and desire for retribution would generate some of the very best art and stories the budding art-form would ever see.

Superman’s rise had been meteoric and inexorable and seemed to never stall. He was the indisputable star of Action, World’s Finest Comics and his own dedicated title. A daily newspaper strip had begun on 16th January 1939, with a separate Sunday strip following from November 5th that year, garnered millions of new fans and a thrice-weekly radio serial launched on February 12th 1940. With a movie cartoon series, games, toys, apparel and a growing international media presence, Superman was swiftly becoming everybody’s hero…

Although the gaudy burlesque of monsters and super-villains still lay years ahead of our hero, these captivating tales of villainy, criminality, corruption and disaster are just as engrossing and speak powerfully of the tenor of the times. A perilous parade of rip-roaring action, seedy hoods, vile masterminds, plagues, disasters, lost kids and distressed damsels are all dealt with in a direct and captivating manner by our relentlessly entertaining exemplar in summarily swift and decisive fashion.

No “to be continueds” here!

The sheer escapism continues with ‘The Caveman Criminal’ (Action #44, illustrated by Nowak & Ed Dobrotka), wherein crooks capitalise on a frozen “Dawn Man” who thaws out and goes wild in crime-ridden Metropolis, after which Superman #14 (January/February 1942 begins.

Again primarily a Nowak art affair – following a fabulous page of ‘Superman’s Tips for Super-Health’ by Shuster & Cassidy – the drama commences with ‘Concerts of Doom!’. Here a master pianist learns just how mesmerising his recitals are and joins forces with unpatriotic thieves and dastardly saboteurs, after which the tireless Man of Tomorrow is hard-pressed to cope with the diabolical destruction caused by ‘The Invention Thief’.

Sikela inks Nowak’s pencils in a frantic high fantasy romp resulting from the Man of Steel’s discovery of a friendly mermaid and malevolent fishmen living in ‘The Undersea City’ before Nowak solos again for more high-tension catastrophic graphic destruction signalling Superman’s epic clash with sinister electrical savant ‘The Lightning Master’.

Action #45 (Nowak & Dobrotka) sees ‘Superman’s Ark’ girdle the globe to repopulate a decrepit and nigh-derelict city zoo, whilst issue #46 features ‘The Devil’s Playground’ (Cassidy) wherein masked murderer The Domino stalks an amusement park wreaking havoc and instilling terror.

Spring 1942’s Finest Comics #6 explores the mystery of a flying castle as Superman breaches ‘The Tower of Terror’ to confront an Indian curse and an unscrupulous businessman, whereas in the bimonthly Superman #15 a dandy exercise regimen from Shuster (‘Attaining Super-Health: A few Hints from Superman!’) leads to Nowak’s ‘The Cop Who was Ruined’ wherein the Metropolis Marvel clears framed detective Bob Branigan – a man who even believes himself guilty – before scurvy Orientals menace the nation’s Pacific fleet in ‘Saboteurs from Napkan’ with Sikela again lending his pens and brushes to Nowak’s pencil art.

Thinly-veiled fascist oppression and expansion is spectacularly nipped in the bud with ‘Superman in Oxnalia’– an all-Sikela art job, before Nowak returns to pencils concluding science fiction thriller ‘The Evolution King’. Here, a malignant mastermind artificially ages his wealthy, prominent victims until the invulnerable Man of Steel storms in…

This splendid compilation concludes with a blockbusting, no-holds-barred battle which was only the opening skirmish in a bigger campaign. Action #47 (by Sikela) reveals how Lex Luthor gains incredible abilities after acquiring the incredible ‘Powerstone’, making the mad scientist temporarily Superman’s physical equal – if not mental – match…

As fresh and thrilling now as they ever were, the endlessly re-readable epics are perfectly housed in these glorious paperback collections where the savage intensity and sly wit still shine through in Siegel’s stories – which literally defined what being a Super Hero means – whilst Shuster’s shadows continued to create the basic iconography of superhero comics for all others to follow.

Such Golden Age tales are priceless enjoyment at an absurdly affordable price and in a durable, comfortingly approachable format. What dedicated comics fan could possibly resist them?
© 1941, 1942, 2018 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

DC Comics: Absolutely Everything You Need to Know

By Liz Marsham, Melanie Scott, Landry Q. Walker, Stephen Wiacek & many and various (Dorling Kindersley)
ISBN: 978-0-24131-424-1

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Fact-packed, Superhero Fun and Fantasy… 9/10

Some reviews are way harder to write than others and occasionally not for the reasons you’d expect. My other job is being a writer for money and, despite having typed whole bunches of stuff pertaining to comics, I’ve never before had the slightest inclination to review anything with my name on it. It’s unnecessary, arrogant and just not done…

Nevertheless, I’m publicly humiliating myself by baldly stating that this book is one of the best and most engaging comics primers for kids on the market, especially if you have nippers you want to introduce into comics.

A bright, bold, reassuringly oversized (235 x283 mm) hardback perfectly conceived for gift-wrapping, DC:AEYNK (as we called it while hammering away at a tight deadline) culls and distils the coolest, daftest, most thrilling and funniest factoids from more than 80 years of comics published by the makers of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Kamandi, Captain Carrot, Zatanna and countless others.

As logged and related by Liz Marsham, Melanie Scott, Landry Q. Walker, me and especially our long-suffering editor and design team, this fabulous full-colour tome divides up into accessible categories such as Characters: Super Heroes and Super-villains; Teams (goodies & baddies) and Science and Magic whilst latterly offering snippets of forbidden knowledge regarding DC geography in From Here to Eternity and taking you on a quick tour of The Multiverse

Augmented by the best clipped art money can license, this bumper compendium appeals equally to neophyte youngsters and the most nit-picky of aging fanboys by providing a fast and furious flow of smart examples and exemplars even whilst answering such pertinent questions as “where can you go if Heaven and Hell exclude you?”, “what’s the hardest job in Central City?” or “what is the most powerful weapon in existence?”

Jam-packed with art by generations of DC contributors, the infographic-inundated double-page features provide a nostalgia-tinged fresh look at the DC Comics Universe, its astounding diverse characters, fantastic weapons, uncanny technology, strange planets, exotic places and parallel worlds through breezy, accessible text, teeming with key data, fun facts, lists, quotes and stats.

An ideal gift, DC Comics: Absolutely Everything You Need to Know is wholehearted and wholesome funnybook joy and, as there’s also a Marvel edition, you ought to get that one too.
© 2018 DC Comics. All related characters and element are © and ™ DC Comics.

JLA Deluxe volume 7

By Joe Kelly, Rick Veitch, Dennis O’Neill, Doug Mankhe, Duncan Rouleau, Tang Eng Huat, ChrissCross, Darryl Banks & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1 4012 5528 2 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Festive Fights ‘n’ Tights Fun… 8/10

When the Justice League of America – driving force and cornerstone of the Silver Age of Comics – were relaunched in 1997 the sheer bravura quality of the stories propelled the series back to the forefront of industry attention, making as many new fans as it recaptured old ones; but the intoxicating sheen of “fresh and new” never lasts and by the time of these tales there had been numerous changes of creative personnel – usually a bad omen…

However, Joe Kelly’s tenure proved to be a marvellous blend of steadying hand and iconoclastic antics through which the JLA happily maintained their tricky task of keeping excitement levels stoked for a fan-base cursed with a criminally short attention span.

Kelly’s run on the series has some notable highs (and lows) and this portmanteau collection (gathering issues #77-93 of the monthly comicbook, spanning March 2003 – April 2004) happily falls into the former category as the team readjust to modern life after their time-lost traumas experienced in the Obsidian Age (see the previous volume of this enthralling deluxe series).

However, the adventure actually kicks off with an impressive, clever and fast-paced fill-in tale from Rick Veitch, Darryl Banks & Wayne Faucher wherein the team – Superman, Batman, Atom, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern John Stewart and Firestorm – are attacked by a civilisation-crushing cosmic wanderer which achieves its goals by invading brains and stealing knowledge in ‘Stardust Memories’

That threat successfully circumvented, the World’s Greatest Superheroes learn of an interplanetary conflict that looks likely to divide the team forever in the eponymous two-parter ‘Rules of Engagement’ by Kelly, Doug Mankhe & Tom Nguyen.

With half the team travelling, uninvited, many light-years to stop a war, the remainder of the JLA stay back to police Earth, giving the opportunity to add some long-missed sub-plots to the usually straightforward storytelling; specifically, some unpleasant hints into new member Faith’s clouded past, a long-deferred romantic dinner for Bruce Wayne and Amazonian Princess Diana and the beginnings of a very hot time for the Martian Manhunter with fiery potential paramour Scorch

On the distant world of Kylaq, Leaguers Superman, Wonder Woman, Manitou Raven, Major Disaster, GL Stewart and mystery girl Faith act unilaterally to prevent the invasion of the Peacemaker Collective. The champions are keenly aware that once they succeed, they must leave the rescued world to the mercies of its own highly suspect government… especially Defense Minister Kanjar Ro, intergalactic slave-trader and one of their oldest, most despotic foes…

We then get some hints into Faith’s shady background as the reunited team are called to an Oregon cult compound where a new Messiah has created Safe Haven: a separatist enclave for metahuman children in the first chapter of socially-controversial thriller ‘The White Rage’.

Unfortunately, the Federal Authorities are not prepared to leave them alone and the resultant clash of ideologies leaves a thousand dead children on the crippled consciences of the devastated superheroes…

Yet something isn’t right: why does each JLA-er believe that they alone are responsible for the massacre? Moreover, what is the actual goal of master manipulator Manson and how does neo-Nazi taskforce Axis America fit into the scheme?

The action-packed mystery saga comes courtesy of Kelly, Duncan Rouleau & Aaron Sowd and is followed by a chilling change of pace in ‘American Nightmare’ by Joe Kelly, Chris Cross & Tom Nguyen.

Clean, clear-cut, high-concept tales here give way to more involved, even convoluted storyline and an increasing dependence on other series’ and characters’ continuity. After an alien telepathic presence puts American President Lex Luthor into a brain-dead coma before assaulting the entire League, investigations lead to an alien incursion more than twenty thousand years ago the in epic 6-part ‘Trial by Fire’ with Doug Mahnke pencilling the chilling proceedings.

During the ice age a monstrous presence was defeated at huge cost by a band of cavemen led by the League’s oldest foe, but it appears that the diabolical beast known as The Burning might not have died forever…

Ranging back even further in DC history it appears that the Guardians of the Universe, immortal taskmasters of the Green Lantern Corps, were involved in the creation of The Burning, and their dispassionate, implacable genetic meddling may have been instrumental in the origins, rise and potential fall of one of Earth’s greatest heroes…

Plagued by cruelly debilitating visions and psychic assaults, as are a sizable portion of humanity, the heroes are desperately struggling as one of their own is possessed by the malevolent entity Fernus who is only seconds away from turning the entire world into a radioactive cinder.

Can the JLA get their act together in time to prevent Armageddon? Of course they can, but not without paying a brutal, tragic price…

A palate-cleansing change of pace follows as ‘Perchance’ (Kelly, ChrissCross & Nguyen) resolves the Batman/Wonder Woman romantic entanglement in a most imaginative manner…

Wrapping up the team-tribulations is a return for veteran scribe Dennis O’Neill who reveals how a phenomenally powerful and benevolent alien returns to Earth after eons away.

Illustrated by Tang Eng Huat, ‘Extinction Part 1: The Coming’ relates how the voyager is checking in on the species he felt was destined to evolve into the planet’s dominant species. The JLA are quite perplexed and very nervous about how to tactfully explain that mankind have almost hunted the silver masked monkey into oblivion…

Things get even more tense in ‘Extinction Part 2: The Lesson’ as the unwilling ambassadors try to convince the troubled tourist of the better qualities on Earth’s actual masters before events come to a cataclysmic head in ‘Soul Survivor’

The JLA has – in all its incarnations – a long history of starting strong but losing focus, and particularly of coasting by on past glories for extended periods. Luckily the New/Old Dog still had a few more tricks and a little life in it before the inevitable demise and reboot for the next generation after Final Crisis.
© 2003, 2004, 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Justice League of America: The Silver Age volume 4

By Gardner Fox, Mike Sekowsky, Bernard Sachs & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-8061-1 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Wholesome, Wholehearted Super-Action… 8/10

The day the Justice League of America was published marks the moment when superheroes truly made comicbooks their own particular preserve. Even though the popularity of masked champions has waxed and waned many times since 1960 and other genres have re-won their places on published pages, in the minds of America and the world, Comics Means Superheroes.

The JLA signalled that men – and even a few women – in capes and masks were back for good…

When Julius Schwartz began reviving and revitalising the nigh-defunct superhero genre in 1956, his Rubicon move came a few years later with the uniting of these reconfigured mystery men into a team…

The JLA debuted in The Brave and the Bold #28 (cover-dated March 1960) and cemented the growth and validity of the revived sub-genre, consequently triggering an explosion of new characters at every company producing comicbooks and spreading to the rest of the world as the decade progressed.

Spanning June 1963 to September 1964, this latest full-colour paperback compendium of classics (also available digitally) re-presents issues #31-41 of the epochal first series with scripter Gardner Fox and illustrators Mike Sekowsky & Bernard Sachs seemingly able to do no wrong…

And while we’re showing our gratitude, lets also salute stalwart letterer Gaspar Saladino for his herculean but unsung efforts to make the uncanny clear to us all…

The adventures here focus on the collective exploits of Superman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, J’onn J’onzz – Manhunter from Mars, Green Arrow, The Atom, hip and plucky mascot Snapper Carr and latest inductee Hawkman as the team consolidate their hold on young hearts and minds whilst further transforming the entire nature of the American comicbook experience…

JLA #31 finally saw the induction of the Winged Wonder into ‘The World’s Greatest Superheroes’ – and not before time. However, in this ancient world of Boy’s Clubs and willing segregation, his dutiful wife and partner Shayera would have to wait for more than a decade before she herself was invited to join as Hawkgirl. Hawkman would be the last successful inductee until Black Canary joined the team in #75.

‘Riddle of the Runaway Room’ sees an alien wish-granting machine fall into the hands of second-rate thug Joe Parry, who nonetheless makes life pretty tough for the team before their eventual victory over his bizarre amalgamized multi-powered villain Super-Duper (no, really!).

The visually impressive Hawkman must have been popular with the creators, if not the fans, as he was prominently featured in all but one of next half-dozen adventures. Issue #32’s ‘Attack of the Star-Bolt Warrior!’ introduces the uncanny villain Brain Storm who attacks the League to avenge his brother who had been “murdered” by one of their number!

The entire universe was once again at stake in time-travelling thriller ‘Enemy from the Timeless World’ as the team strive to counter a chronal monster dubbed the Endless One, after which a persistent old foe had yet another go in #34’s ‘The Deadly Dreams of Doctor Destiny!’: a thriller packed with an army of guest-villains.

The team are attacked by their own clothes in issue #35’s supernatural adventure ‘Battle Against the Bodiless Uniforms’, a devilish fall-back plan concocted by the antediluvian demons Abnegazar, Rath and Ghast, which had been slowly percolating since the end of JLA #11.

Issue #36’s ‘The Case of the Disabled Justice League’ sees the team raise the morale of despondent kids with disabilities by overcoming their own recently-inflicted physical handicaps to defeat the returning Brain Storm. This tale was in fact inspired by ‘A Place in the World’, a Justice Society of America adventure from 1945’s All Star Comics #27. That yarn was produced at a time when returning servicemen, maimed and disfigured in combat, were becoming an increasingly common sight on the streets of America…

The third annual JLA/JSA team-up follows, a largely forgotten and rather experimental tale wherein the Johnny Thunder of Earth-1 wrests control of the genie-like Thunderbolt from his Justice Society counterpart and uses its magic to alter the events that led to the creation of all Earth-1’s superheroes.

Then it’s JSA to the rescue in a gripping battle of wits in #37’s ‘Earth – Without a Justice League’ and the concluding ‘Crisis on Earth-A!’

Issue #39 was an Eighty-Page Giant reprinting Brave and the Bold #28 and #30 and Justice League of America #5 (represented here by its evocative cover), so we jump to #40 and the ‘Indestructible Creatures of Nightmare Island’: a challenging mystery wherein an astral scientist’s machine to suppress Man’s basest instincts almost causes the end of humanity. The result is an action-packed psycho-thriller stuffed with villainous guest-stars and oodles of action before this compendium concludes with JLA #41 which introduces a modern version of an old Justice Society villain.

The Earth-1 mastermind called The Key is a diabolical scientist who employs mild-altering psycho-chemicals to control the behaviour of our heroes in ‘The Key – Master of the World!’

With iconic covers by Sekowsky & Murphy Anderson, these tales are a perfect example of all that was best about the Silver Age of comics, combining optimism and ingenuity with bonhomie and adventure. This slice of better times also has the benefit of cherishing wonderment whilst actually being historically valid for any fan of our medium. And best of all the stories here are still captivating and enthralling transports of delight.

These classical compendia are a dedicated fan’s delight: an absolute gift for modern readers who desperately need to catch up without going bankrupt. They are also perfect to give to youngsters as an introduction into a fabulous world of adventure and magic…
© 1964, 1965, 2018 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman/Batman volume 1 (New edition)

By Jeph Loeb, Ed McGuinness & Dexter Vines, Pat Lee & Dreamwave Productions, Michael Turner & Peter Steigerwald & various (DC Comics)ISBN: 978-1-4012-4818-5 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Compelling Comics Cavortings… 8/10

For many years Superman and Batman worked together as the “World’s Finest” team. They were best friends and the pairing made perfect financial sense as National/DC’s most popular heroes could cross-sell their combined readerships.

When the characters were redefined for the post-Crisis 1980s, they were remade as suspiciously respectful co-workers who did the same job but deplored each other’s methods and preferred to avoid contact whenever possible – except when they were in the Justice League (but for the sake of your sanity don’t fret that right now!).

After a few years of this new status quo the irresistible lure of Cape & Cowl Capers inexorably brought them together again with modern emotional intensity derived from their incontestably differing methods and characters.

In this rocket-paced, post-modern take on the relationship, they have reformed as firm friends for the style-over-content 21st century, and this is the story of their first outing together. Outlawed and hunted by their fellow heroes, Superman finds himself accused of directing a continent-sized chunk of Kryptonite to crash into Earth, with Batman accused of aiding and abetting…

To save Superman, the world and their own reputations they are forced to attempt the overthrow of the United States President himself. Of course, said President is the unspeakably evil Lex Luthor. Back in 2003 he was considered the least likely leader America could ever elect…

I deeply disliked this tale when I first read it: Plot is reduced to an absolute minimum in favour of showy set-pieces, previously established characterisation often hostage to whatever seems the easiest way to short-cut to action (mortal foes Captain Atom and Major Force work together to capture our heroes because President Luthor tells them to?) but after all these years it’s worthy of another look and I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve changed my opinion somewhat…

This paperback (and eBook) compilation collects issues #1-13 of the hip turn of the century reboot Superman/Batman (and includes a vignette from Superman/Batman Secret Files 2003) collectively spanning October 2003 to October 2004)

The action – written by Jeph Loeb and illustrated by Ed McGuiness & Dexter Vines – opens with ‘World’s Finest’ as the Dark and Light Knights follow telling leads in separate cases back to shape-shifting cyborg John (Metallo) Corben, discovering evidence to suggest that the ruthless cyborg might have been the at-large-for-decades shooter in the still unsolved double murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne

Even that bombshell seems inconsequential after the mechanoid monster shoots Superman in the chest with a kryptonite bullet before burying the stunned duo under tons of Earth in a Gotham graveyard…

Meanwhile at the Pentagon, President Lex is informed that a toxically radioactive lump of Krypton the size of Australia is on a collision course with Earth. Implausibly adopting (and foreshadowing) the “Fake News” disinformational line that Superman has summoned it, the Federal Government issues an arrest warrant for the Man of Steel and convenes a metahuman taskforce to bring him in…

Escaping certain doom thanks to Batman’s skill and unflappable nerve, the blithely unaware heroes reach medical help in the Batcave in ‘Early Warning’, only to be attacked by an older version of Superman, determined to prevent them making a mistake that will end life on Earth…

After a massive nuclear strike (somehow augmented by embargoed Boom Tube technology from hell-world Apokolips), Luthor overrules Captain Atom’s qualms about the mission and orders his anti-Superman squad to apprehend their target wherever he might be hiding.

The President then goes on television to blame the alien for the impending meteor strike and announces a billion-dollar Federal bounty on the Action Ace…

Man of Tomorrow and Man of Darknight Detective respond by direct assault in ‘Running Wild’, hurtling towards Washington DC only to be ambushed en route by a greed-crazed army of super-villains and mind-controlled heroes before Atom’s group – Green Lantern John Stewart, Black Lightning, Katana, Starfire, Power Girl and certified quantum psychopath Major Force – join the attack…

As the combatants ‘Battle On’, in the Oval Office even fanatical civil servant Amanda Waller – commander of covert Penal Battalion the Suicide Squad – begins to realise something is wrong with the President.

For a start, his behaviour is increasingly erratic, but the real clue is that he is juicing himself with a kryptonite-modified version of super-steroid venom…

The blistering battle between the outlawed heroes and Atom’s unit extends as far as Japan, (where the Cape & Cowl Crusaders are secretly organising a last-ditch solution to the imminent Kryptonite continent crash) before Major Force begins to smell a rat and realises some of his team are actually working with Superman and Batman.

Military martinet Captain Atom is not one of them, but eventually even he is made to see reason – only moments before the deranged Major goes ballistic and nearly turns Tokyo to ashes…

Using his energy-absorbing powers, Atom prevents the holocaust, but the monumental radiation release triggers his “temporal safety-valve” and the silver-skinned soldier materialises in a future where Earth is a barren cinder and only an aged, tragic, broken Superman resides…

Meanwhile in the present, the Presidential Pandemonium has prompted the venerable Justice Society of America to step in; despatching Captain Marvel and Hawkman to apprehend the fugitive Superman and Batman.

Apparently successful, the operation triggers a back-up team (Supergirl, Nightwing, Steel, Superboy, Natasha Irons, Robin, Huntress, Batgirl and even Krypto) who invade the White House only to be defeated by Luthor himself, high on K-Venom and utilising Apokolyptian technology in ‘State of Siege’

With extinction only moments away and a deranged President Luthor on the loose, Superman and Batman prepare to employ their eleventh-hour suicidal salvation machine but are caught off-guard when a most unexpected substitute ambushes them to pilot the crucial mission in ‘Final Countdown’

In so many ways this yarn is everything I hate about modern comics. The story length is artificially extended to accommodate lots of guest stars and superfluous fighting, whilst large amounts of narrative occur off-camera or between issues, presumably to facilitate a faster, smoother read.

On the plus side, however, is the fact that I’m an old fart. There is clearly a market for such snazzy, souped-up, stripped down, practically deconstructed comic fare. And if I’m being completely honest, there is a certain fizz and frisson to non-stop, superficial all-out action – especially when it’s so dynamically illustrated.

Public Enemies looks very good indeed and, if much of the scenario is obvious and predictable, it is big and immediate and glossy like a summer blockbuster movie is supposed to be.

The epic is followed by a stand-alone tale starring Robin – the Tim Drake version – and semi-Kryptonian clone Conner Kent.

‘Protégé’ sees the assistants – don’t call them sidekicks – despatched to Japan to end the threat of a new Toyman. This particular giggling genius is a lethally brilliant kid and their off-the-wall solution to his antics is both smart and effective…

Next follows a tale and situation that only comics could conceive.

For decades DC really couldn’t make up their minds over Supergirl. I’ve actually lost count of the number of different versions that have cropped up over the years, and I’ve never been able to shake the queasy feeling that above all else she’s a concept that was cynically shifted from being a way to get girls reading comics to one calculated to ease young male readers over that bumpy patch between sporadic chin-hair outbreaks, voice-breaking and that nervous period of hiding things under your mattress where your mum never, never ever looks…

After a few intriguing test-runs the first true Girl of Steel debuted as a future star of the ever-expanding Superman pocket universe in Action Comics #252 (May 1959). Superman’s cousin Kara Zor-El had been born on a city-sized fragment of Krypton, hurled intact into space when the planet exploded. Eventually Argo City turned to Kryptonite like the rest of the detonated world’s debris and her dying parents, observing Earth through their vision-scopes, sent their daughter to safety as they apparently perished.

Landing on Earth, she fortuitously met Superman who created the identity of Linda Lee and hid her in an orphanage whilst she learned of her new world and powers in secrecy and safety.

Her popularity waxed and waned over the years until she was earmarked for destruction as one of the attention-grabbing deaths during Crisis on Infinite Earths.

However, after John Byrne successfully rebooted the Man of Steel, non-Kryptonian iterations began to appear – each with her own fans – until early in the 21st century the company Powers-that-Be decided the real Girl of Steel should come back… sort of…

Thus, this visually intoxicating version (from Superman/Batman #8-13) resets to the original concept and has a naked blonde chick arrive on a colossal Kryptonite meteor, claiming to be Superman’s cousin…

Written by Loeb with captivating art by Michael Turner & Peter Steigerwald, the action commences in ‘Alone’, as a quarantined Superman chafes at enforced detention, the Dark Knight explores a section of the meteor submerged in Gotham Bay.

The JLA have all been active, clearing away the deadly fragments, but this last one is most disturbing. As Batman quickly grasps, it’s a ship, but its single passenger is now missing…

Soon the Gotham Guardian is tracking a wave of destruction caused by a seemingly confused teenaged girl with incredible powers and only Superman’s unwise early intervention stops the mounting carnage.

Their subsequent investigations reveal the comely captive to have all the Man of Tomorrow’s abilities and she claims – in fluent Kryptonian – to be the daughter of his long-dead uncle Zor-El

The mystery further unfolds in ‘Visitor’ as a deeply suspicious Batman and ecstatic Superman continue their researches, arguing their corners as the most powerful girl on Earth becomes increasingly impatient. Fuelling the Dark Knight’s concern is superdog Krypto’s clear and savage hostility to the newcomer and Kara’s convenient claim that she has amnesia…

Then as Clark Kent endeavours to acclimatise his cousin to life on Earth, on the hellish world of Apokolips vile Granny Goodness and her Female Furies are ordered by ultimate evil space-god Darkseid to acquire the pliable naive newcomer…

Before they can strike, however, an attack comes from an unexpected source, as former ally Harbinger, ruthless hunter Artemis and beloved ally Wonder Woman ambush the Kryptonians. …

Princess Diana has acted arbitrarily but from absolute necessity: kidnapping Kara and bringing her to the island home of the Amazons to be trained in the use of her powers as a ‘Warrior’.

Superman’s growing obsession has rendered him unable to see her potential for destruction, despite a cryptic message on her space ship from Zor-El, and Wonder Woman chose to strike first and ask later…

With tempers barely cooled, Dark Knight and Action Ace are invited to observe Kara’s progress weeks later, just as the tropical paradise is assaulted by an army of artificial Doomsdays manufactured on Apokolips…

The wave of slaughter is a feint, but by the time the rampaging horrors are all destroyed, the Furies have done their work, slaughtering Kara’s only friend and stealing away the Kryptonian kid…

In ‘Prisoner’, DC’s superheroic high trinity enlist the aid of Apokolyptian émigré Big Barda and stage a devastating rescue mission to Darkseid’s homeworld, but not before the Lord of Evil apparently twists the innocent Girl of Steel into his tool: making her a ‘Traitor’ to the living…

The Master of Apokolips has never faced a foe as adamant as Batman and the quartet are unexpectedly victorious, but after returning Kara to Earth and announcing her as the new Supergirl, the heroes discover that they are not safe or secure, and in ‘Hero’ Darkseid horrifyingly returns to exact his ultimate revenge…

For me, the most intriguing aspect of this sometimes overly-sentimental tale is Batman’s utter distrust and suspicion of Kara as she is hidden from the world while she assimilates, but there’s plenty of beautifully rendered action – plus oodles of lovingly rendered girl-flesh and titillating fetish outfits jostling for attention amidst the lavish fight-scenes and interminable guest-cameos, should that be to your tastes – and enough sheer spectacle to satisfy any Fights ‘n’ Tights fans.

Even now the goods things have not been exhausted as Superman/Batman Secret Files 2003 provides a charming peek into the past with ‘When Clark met Bruce’ (“A tale from the days of Smallville”) in which bucolic 2-page snippet, Loeb & Tim Sale effectively tease us with the question of what might have been, had the go happy-go-lucky Kent boy actually got to have a play-date with that morose, recently orphaned rich kid from Gotham City…

Filling out the experience are pictorial fact-file on Superman, Batman,

President Lex Luthor, Talia and Metallo, plus a full cover gallery by McGuiness & Vines, Turner & Steigerwald and Jim Lee & Scott Williams and studies and design sketches for Supergirl.

Full of flash and dazzle this mighty tome might well be the kind of Fights ‘n’ Tights thrill you’re looking for this yule season.
© 2003, 2004, 2014 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Legion of Super-Heroes: The Silver Age volume 1

By Otto Binder, Jerry Siegel, Edmond Hamilton, Robert Bernstein, Al Plastino, George Papp, Jim Mooney, Curt Swan, John Forte & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-8157-1

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Astounding All Ages Entertainment… 9/10

Once upon a time, in the far future, a band of super-powered kids from dozens of alien civilisations took inspiration from the greatest legend of all time and formed a club of heroes. One day those Children of Tomorrow came back in time and invited that legend to join them…

And thus began the vast and epic saga of the Legion of Super-Heroes, as first envisioned by writer Otto Binder & artist Al Plastino in early 1958, just as the revived comicbook genre of superheroes was gathering an inexorable head of steam. Since that time the fortunes and popularity of the Legion have perpetually waxed and waned, with their future history tweaked and rebooted, retconned and overwritten again and again to comply with editorial diktat and popular whim.

This glorious, far-and-wide ranging trade paperback and eBook collection assembles the many preliminary appearances of these valiant Tomorrow People and their inevitable progress towards and attainment of their own feature; including all pertinent material from Adventure Comics #247, 267, 282, 290, 293, and 300-310, Action Comics #267, 276, 287 and 289, Superboy #86, 89, 98 and Superman #147, cumulatively spanning April 1958 through July 1963.

The many-handed mob of juvenile universe-savers debuted in Adventure Comics #247 (cover-dated April 1958) in a Superboy tale wherein three mysterious kids invited the Boy of Steel to the 30th century to join a team of metahuman champions all inspired by his historic career.

Devised by Otto Binder & Al Plastino, the throwaway concept inflamed public imagination and, after a slew of further appearances throughout Superman Family titles, the LSH eventually took over Superboy’s lead spot in Adventure for their own far-flung, quirky escapades, with the Caped Kid Kryptonian reduced to merely “one of the in-crowd”…

However here the excitement was still gradually building as the kids returned more than 18 months later in Adventure #267 (December 1959) for Jerry Siegel & George Papp to play with.

In ‘Prisoner of the Super-Heroes!’ the teen wonders turn up to attack and incarcerate the Boy of Steel because of a misunderstood ancient record they have uncovered…

The following summer Supergirl met the Legion in Action Comics #267 (August 1960, by Siegel & Jim Mooney) as Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl and Cosmic Boy secretly travel to “modern day” America to invite the Maid of Might to join the team, in a repetition of their offer to Superboy 15 years previously (in nit-picking fact they claimed to be the children of the original team – a fact glossed over and forgotten these days: don’t time-travel stories make your head hurt…?).

Due to a dubious technicality, young and eager Kara Zor-El fails her initiation task at the hands of ‘The Three Super-Heroes’ and is asked to reapply later – but at least we get to meet a few more Legionnaires, including Chameleon Boy, Invisible Kid and Colossal Boy

With editors still cautiously testing the waters, it was Superboy #86 (January 1961) before ‘The Army of Living Kryptonite Men!’ (by Siegel & Papp) who turned the LSH into a last-minute Deus ex Machina to save the Smallville Sentinel from juvenile delinquent Lex Luthor’s most insidious assault.

Two months later in Adventure #282, Binder & Papp introduced Star Boy as a romantic rival for the Krypton Kid in ‘Lana Lang and the Legion of Super-Heroes!’

In Action #276 (May 1961) Siegel & Mooney introduced ‘Supergirl’s Three Super Girl-Friends’, which finally saw her crack the plasti-glass ceiling and join the team, sponsored by Saturn Girl, Phantom Girl and Triplicate Girl. We also meet for the first time Bouncing Boy, Shrinking Violet, Sun Boy and potential bad-boy love-interest Brainiac 5 (well at least his distant ancestor Brainiac was a very bad boy…)

Next comes a pivotal two-part tale. ‘Superboy’s Big Brother’ (by Robert Bernstein & Papp from Superboy #89, June 1961) reveals how an amnesiac, super-powered space traveller crashes in Smallville, speaking Kryptonese and carrying star-maps written by the Boy of Steel’s long-dead father…

Jubilant, baffled and suspicious in equal amounts, Superboy eventually, tragically discovers ‘The Secret of Mon-El’ by accidentally exposing the stranger to a lingering, inexorable death, before desperately providing critical life-support by depositing the dying alien in the Phantom Zone until a cure can be found…

With an August 1961 cover-date Superman #147 unleashed ‘The Legion of Super-Villains’ (Siegel, Curt Swan & Sheldon Moldoff): a stand-out thriller featuring the adult Luthor and correspondingly mature wicked future bad guys coming far too close to destroying the Action Ace until the temporal cavalry arrives…

Bernstein & Papp seemingly give Sun Boy a starring role in ‘The Secret of the Seventh Super-Hero!’ (Adventure #290, November 1961) – a clever tale of redemption and second chances, followed in #293 (February 1962) by a gripping thriller from Siegel, Swan & George Klein. ‘The Legion of Super-Traitors’ posits the future heroes turning evil, prompting Saturn Girl to recruit a Legion of Super-Pets including Krypto, Streaky the Super Cat, Beppo, the monkey from Krypton and Comet the magical Super-horse to save the world – and yes, I typed all that with a reasonably straight face…

‘Supergirl’s Greatest Challenge!’ by Siegel & Mooney (Action #287 April 1962) sees her visit the Legion (quibblers be warned: for some reason it was mis-determined as the 21st century in this story) and saved future Earth from invasion.

She also met a telepathic descendent of her cat Streaky. His name was Whizzy (I could have omitted that fact but chose not to – once more for smug, comedic effect and in sympathy with cat owners everywhere)…

Action #289 originally hosted ‘Superman’s Super-Courtship!’ wherein the Girl of Steel scours the universe for an ideal mate for her cousin. One highly possible candidate is the adult Saturn Woman, but her husband Lightning Man objects…

Perhaps charming at the time, but modern sensibilities might quail at the conclusion that his perfect match was a doppelganger of Supergirl herself, albeit thankfully a little bit older…

By the release of Superboy #98 (July 1962), the decision had been made. The buying public wanted more Legion stories and after ‘The Boy with Ultra-Powers’ (Siegel, Swan & Klein) introduces a mysterious lad with greater powers than the Boy of Steel, focus shifts to Adventure Comics #300 (cover-dated September 1962) where the futuristic super-squad finally land their own gig; even occasionally taking an alternating cover-spot from the still top-featured Boy of Steel.

Tales of the Legion of Super-Heroes opened its stellar run with ‘The Face Behind the Lead Mask!’ by Siegel, John Forte & Plastino: a fast-paced premier pitting Superboy and the 30th century champions against an impossibly unbeatable foe until Mon-El, long-trapped in the Phantom Zone, briefly escapes a millennium of confinement to save the day…

In those halcyon days humour was as important as action, imagination and drama, so many of the early exploits were light-hearted and moralistic. Issue #301 offered hope to fat kids everywhere with ‘The Secret Origin of Bouncing Boy!’ by regular creative team Siegel & Forte, wherein the process of open auditions was instigated.

These provided devoted fans with loads of truly bizarre and memorable applicants over the years whilst here allowing the rebounding human rotunda to give a salutary pep talk and inspirational recount of heroism persevering over adversity.

Adventure #302 featured ‘Sun Boy’s Lost Power!’ with the golden boy forced to resign until fortune and boldness restore his abilities after which ‘The Fantastic Spy!’ in #303 provides a tense tale of espionage and possible betrayal by new member Matter-Eater Lad.

The happy readership was stunned by the events of #304 when Saturn Girl engineered ‘The Stolen Super-Powers!’ to make herself a one-woman Legion. Of course, it was for the best possible reasons, but still didn’t prevent the shocking murder of Lightning Lad…

With comfortable complacency utterly destroyed, #305 further shook everything up with ‘The Secret of the Mystery Legionnaire!’ who turns out to be the long-suffering Mon-El finally cured and freed from his Phantom Zone prison.

Normally I’d try to be more obscure about story details – after all my intention is to get new people reading old comics – but these “spoiler” revelations are crucial to further understanding here and besides you all know these characters are still around, don’t you?

Pulp science fiction writer Edmond Hamilton took over the major scripting role with Adventure #306, introducing ‘The Legion of Substitute Heroes!’ (still quirkily, perfectly illustrated by John Forte): a group of rejected audition applicants selflessly banding together and clandestinely assisting the champions who had spurned them, after which transmuting orphan Element Lad joins the big league.

He is seeking vengeance of the space pirates who had wiped out his entire species in ‘The Secret Power of the Mystery Super-Hero!’ whilst in #308 readers seemingly saw ‘The Return of Lightning Lad!’

Actual Spoiler Warning: skip to the next paragraph NOW!!!

Otherwise you’ll find out it was actually his similarly empowered sister who – once unmasked and unmanned – took her brother’s place as Lightning Lass

Penultimate escapade ‘The Legion of Super-Monsters!’ was a straightforward clash with embittered applicant Jungle King who took his rejection far too personally and gathered a deadly clutch of space beasts to wreak havoc and vengeance after which the future tension temporarily subsides with ‘The Doom of the Super-Heroes!’ from #310: a frantic battle for survival against an impossible foe

The Legion is undoubtedly one of the most beloved and bewildering creations in American comicbook history and largely responsible for the growth of the groundswell movement that became Comics Fandom.

Moreover, these sparkling, simplistic and devastatingly addictive stories, as much as the legendary Julie Schwartz Justice League, fired up the interest and imaginations of a generation of young readers and built the industry we all know today.

These naive, silly, joyous, stirring and utterly compelling yarns are precious and fun beyond any ability to explain – even if we old lags gently mock them to ourselves and one another. If you love comics and haven’t read this stuff, you are the poorer for it and need to enrich your future life as soon as possible.
© 1958-1963, 2018 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Elseworlds Batman volume 2

By Doug Moench, Kelley Jones, John Beatty & Malcolm Jones III (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6982-1

During the 1990s DC regrouped and rebranded its frequent dalliances with alternate reality scenarios under the copious and broad umbrella of a separate imprint. The Elseworlds banner and credo declared that heroes would be taken out of their usual settings and put into strange places and times – some that have existed, or might have existed, and others that can’t, couldn’t or Shouldn’t exist…

Here a recent reissue (originally released in 2007 as Batman Vampire – Tales of the Multiverse) and now available in paperback and eBook editions collects a trilogy of unlikely Batman stories that began with a literary cross-pollination of the type publishers seem so in love with.

Crafted by Doug Moench, Kelley Jones and Malcolm Jones III, Batman and Dracula: Red Rain was and remains is a genuinely creepy adventure of heroism and sacrifice. Here the Lord of Vampires moves into Gotham City and turns the city into a hellscape unimaginable to behold.

Desperate to save his home, the Dark Knight is forced to ally himself with “good vampires” in an attempt to stop Dracula. It can’t be a spoiler to reveal that he also has to sacrifice his life and his humanity before the threat to his beloved city is ended…

This tale was a great success when it was first released in 1991; a minor gothic masterpiece, both philosophical and tension drenched, with the sleek, glossily distorted artwork of Jones & Jones III creating a powerful aura of foredoomed predestination. It alone is well worth the price of admission.

And that is a very good thing because the two sequels are a possibly unnecessary indulgence.

Batman: Bloodstorm (1994, with the somehow more visually hygienic John Beatty replacing Malcolm Jones III as inker) sees a devasted-but-still-hanging-on Gotham protected by a vampiric Batman.

The Dark Nosferatu now combines his crime-fighting mission with dispatching those bloodsuckers who escaped the cataclysmic events of Red Rain. Tragically, he is a tortured hero suffering the agonies of the damned, struggling perpetually with his unholy thirst, but is determined nonetheless never to drink human blood.

However, when the Joker assumes command of the remaining vampire packs and attempts to take control of Gotham, not even the hero’s greatest friends and a lycanthropic Cat-Woman can forestall Batman’s final fate…

And yet Batman’s eternal rest is thwarted and stolen from him after the heartsick Alfred Pennyworth and desperate Commissioner Jim Gordon recall the Batman from his tomb in Batman: Crimson Mist.

Moench, Jones & Beatty recount a bleak but predictable saga (originally released in 1999) of a beleaguered metropolis overrun by super-criminals since the caped Crusader went to his reward.

So, when his faithful manservant brings him back, the faithful retainer is horrified to find the now corrupted hero is just another malevolent, blood-hungry beast. One who plans to save Gotham by slaughtering every criminal still breathing in it…

Only a bizarre alliance of good men and monstrous villains can rectify this situation before humanity itself pays the awful price…

These stories take the concept of Batman as scary beast to logical extremes – and far beyond – but although well drawn and thoughtfully written, the sequels lack the depth and intensity of the initial tale and feel too much like most sequels – just an attempt to make some more money.

If you’re a superhero fan at least in this volume you have the real deal, so buy it and just treat the last two thirds as bonus material. If you’re a sucker for stylish bloodbaths and dramatic scarlet-drenched suspense, however, there’s plenty here for you to wade through and wallow in…
© 1991, 1994, 1999, 2016 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.